Fri, 25 Apr 2003

A community newspaper of sorts

Endy M. Bayuni, Deputy chief editor, The Jakarta Post

If a newspaper's reputation is measured by the kind of scoops it has achieved, The Jakarta Post could rightfully claim to have landed the greatest triumph in Indonesian media history.

Our edition on May 21, 1998, broke the story that then president Soeharto was preparing to announce his resignation that morning.

No other newspaper, TV or radio station, even news website, carried the momentous story with the same conviction we did. The best they could come up with was the "possibility" of Soeharto resigning, parroting the rumor that had been making the rounds for days as the government faced seething opposition. But The Jakarta Post even pinpointed the timing of the expected announcement (9 a.m.), and the venue (the presidential palace).

When the Post reached our readers, it sent shockwaves not just across Indonesia, but also across the globe. It is not every day that a publication carries the story of a tyrant, who ruled for more than three decades with no heed for opposition or criticism, doing the previously unthinkable of stepping down from power.

Strongman Soeharto turned out to be not that strong, bowing to "people power" from the seemingly submissive citizens he ruled for 32 years.

The Jakarta Post was proud to have broken the story before everybody else.

The night before, many of our senior editors were feverishly working the phones, trying to keep track of developments from people in the know as Soeharto's aides trooped in and out of his Jl. Cendana residence.

It was not until well after midnight, past our regular printing deadline, that we decided to run the story, even though there was no confirmation of the resignation. I was personally not involved in the making of that historic edition as I was performing my civic duty guarding my neighborhood in the wake of the city-wide riots, but I am proud of my colleagues who put the paper together.

It was only thanks to the foresight of the editors that we even published the newspaper on that fateful day, which was the Ascension Day of Jesus Christ, a public holiday. The Jakarta Post, as well as a few other newspapers in Jakarta, decided that the political situation in the capital was in such a state of flux that readers should be kept abreast of developments. We published in curtailed form on that day, putting out four carefully chosen pages in place of our then regular 16-page edition.

Of course, we did not have time to gloat about our achievement then, because we in the newspaper business, like everybody else in the world, were overcome by the biggest story to have struck Indonesia for decades.

But today, as we mark our 20th anniversary, we can look back with a certain degree of pride at our achievement in landing the biggest scoop when it really mattered.

There have been many other scoops during our history, all of them stemming from the solid foundation of accurate news sourcing, analysis and reporting that we have built from the outset of our operations.

There have also been blunders both great and small, but we prefer to exercise editorial license and not discuss them today, except to say that we have learned from our mistakes and are wiser for them.

Landing scoops is only one part of what makes a newspaper great. Ultimately, the goal of a newspaper is to serve the need of its readers, informing them of the latest news that is of importance to them.

Publishing a stunning scoop is one way of beating other media in the race for the latest news, a point of pride and pleasure, but we need to be accurate, timely, comprehensive, relevant, insightful and, yes, entertaining in putting out our daily newspaper.

Over the last 20 years, The Jakarta Post has managed to build up a sizable number of loyal readers. They are, effectively, our "community".

We are not a mass-selling newspaper, and we do not aspire to be one. Given that the language we use is English in a largely non-English speaking country, that choice virtually restricts the size of our readership in Indonesia. In fact, the small size (hopefully growing!) of our readership gives The Jakarta Post the feel of a community newspaper.

Who exactly makes up this "community"?

It is not defined by geography, like a village, or a town or a city, for our readers transcend such boundaries. About 70 percent of our readers reside in Jakarta, the remainder living in far- flung corners of the country. We also must not forget that our online version ( is accessed daily by thousands of people from throughout the world.

It is not a community that is defined by race or nationality, either. It may surprise some of our readers, but Indonesians today make up about 65 percent of paid subscribers of the newspaper, and the rest are expatriates. With the advent of globalization in the 1990s, more and more Indonesians use English in their daily activities, and have thus graduated to become a sizable part of our community.

While it is certainly a community that is conversant in English, a shared language is not the only tie that binds. We have learned over the years, in talking to our readers, from the feedback we receive from them and from the regular readership surveys we conduct, that it is our shared values, concerns and, to some extent, goals that make us one.

The Jakarta Post community is concerned about the future of this nation and this country. It is a community that values the principles of civil society, including democracy, justice, fairness, good governance and, last but not least, progress and prosperity.

These concerns and values have become the guidelines for the newspaper in selecting, sorting and packaging the information that we bring daily to our readers.

With the coming of press freedom following Soeharto's downfall in1998, The Jakarta Post is in a much better position than before in representing the interests of its community.

Of course, we do not take that role for granted, and it would be mistaken to assume that we always know what is good for our community. The declining number of readers since the financial crisis struck in 1997 tells us that not only has the environment changed, but our community's concerns and values, or at least priorities, have also shifted.

Since 1998, we have made changes to our newspaper, sometimes drastically, to reflect these changes. We have reorganized ourselves, constructing a new vision and mission more attuned to present-day challenges, and revamped our layout into a newspaper better suited to the times.

While we fully realize the need to change along with our community, the one thing that will never change is our unswerving commitment to our readers. If commitment lies at the heart of any relationship, then we remain steadfast in serving all the news needs of our community.

And as we celebrate this auspicious occasion in our history, we thank all our readers for being part of our journey in shaping The Jakarta Post of today.